6/25/2016

Summer Moviethon 2016: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

June 25: #14, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Not even Megan Fox in a short skirt can save this festering turd.



Very early in the sequel to 2014's TMNT reboot, there's an incredibly contrived scene where Megan Fox's April O'Neil puts on her best 90s rock video starlet strut, snatches a plaid skirt off a rack without breaking stride, puts it on over her pants and ties her top to show off her mid-riff. It's something that would work very well set to Warrant's "Cherry Pie" and immediately comes off as pandering. Or maybe someone involved in the film's production pointed out to director Dave Green that Megan Fox is in the movie, and they should probably have her show some skin.

At least, that's what I thought at first. Then, I realized that it was in fact a preemptive apology. Like, "Hey, this is going to be a really shitty movie, so here's Megan Fox as a naughty school girl."

But even if this was 2006, that wouldn't be a suitable consolation prize for paying money to see the uninspired mess that is the latest installment of this once-proud franchise.

Hey, I know how to pander to the audience, too!
The last film wasn't exactly Shakespeare and the character designs sucked then, too. However, we at least had a couple of great action sequences at the end to pay off our patience. This time, the action sequences are just kind of there. Sure, stuff blows up, giant spaceships are assembled in the sky, and many turtles execute all types of flips and kicks, but what thrill there was is long gone.

And everything else is worse than last time around, too. Like the jokes. Oh, the jokes. Raphael jumps onto the front of a motorcycle being ridden by a bad guy and says, "That's how I roll." After he knocks him off the bike, he adds, "That's how you roll." Get it? Cause bikes have wheels that roll! HILARIOUS!

That's not all. While still in human form, Rocksteady (played by WWE wrestler Sheamus, who brings enough enthusiasm to the role that you feel bad for him) says that he's Finnish. Why? "Because when I start a beatdown, I always 'Finnish' it!" Ugh. Later on, Michelangelo points out that Krang is "literally re-arming" as he immediately summons a replacement arm after losing the original in battle. And he's supposed to be the funny one in the group!

Krang pretty much sucks. Stephen Amell as Casey Jones sucks, too. The film is peppered with the same old personality conflict that (gasp!) threatens to tear the Turtles apart that we've seen in every movie, and you spend half the movie feeling bad for Laura Linney, who has been nominated for three Academy Awards, but felt the need to slum it by appearing in this nonsense. What's worse, like Sheamus, no one told her that this movie is going to be a shit-show and she should mail it in. Instead, she plays her role as a detective like it's an honest-to-God police procedural and it just makes you want to give her a hug and tell her, "It's okay. You can stop now. Michael Bay can't hurt you anymore."


"There's Michael Bay! GET HIM!!!"


And maybe he won't be able to, since this film is flopping in the box office as we speak. Hopefully, that means the Turtles can rest in peace for awhile and Platinum Dunes can find a different dead film franchise to resurrect into a hideous, grotesque, shambling version of its former self.

Grade: D

Summer Moviethon 2016: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

#13: June 25, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Tonight, I dine on turtle soup.


I had never planned on seeing the Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot for a number of reasons. For one, I'm generally anti-reboot. We all know the origins of the turtles; let's not go back there again. Two, I thought the Nickelodeon cartoon was well done and would have rather seen a feature-length version of that. Three, the turtles look awful in the film. Just horrible.

I mean, if you think about it, a half-human, half-turtle is a hideous thing, right? That's the stuff of nightmares. Even when considering how horrifying a mutated turtle that walks on its hind legs would look in real life, though, the characters for the reboot are still terrible.

Yikes.

So that was enough for me. Until I heard a few surprisingly good reviews ("It's better than you'd expect," friends said) and the movie came to my small town theater where our whole family can go see a movie for $20. We see just about every kid-friendly movie that comes through town, so I bit the bullet and watched it. And yes, it wasn't as bad as I expected.

Today was the first time I'd seen it since that initial viewing, and I still think it's pretty decent. Sure, April O'Neil is the worst reporter ever (who jots notes onto a pad in 2014?). Sure, it's silly that the turtles were once April's pets and Splinter became a master of ninjitsu by reading a book. Sure, there's more lens flare than in both of the new Star Trek films combined.

Still, there's some good here. Shredder seems pretty badass, even if his suit is way over the top and he appears to have arms entirely constructed out of oversized Swiss army knives. Some of the self-aware humor hits the mark, and as a veteran of the Transformers films, Megan Fox knows that her role is to look pretty and make the same three facial expressions all film long, so she's a great choice for O'Neil.

Expression number 1: Wide-eyed amazement.

Again, there's a lot not to like here. I could have done without the predictable subplot with Will Arnett as O'Neil's permanently friend-zoned cameraman, for example. But even if he's basically doing a Michael Bay impression, director Jonathan Liebesman can direct the shit out of an action sequence. Both the avalanche scene and the climactic rooftop fight are extremely well done, which is what takes this out of the C- or D range and makes it worth a viewing.

Grade: C+

Summer Moviethon 2016: The Great Alone

June 24: #12, The Great Alone

Told you I was a sucker for documentaries that feature niche sports!


Already behind on my quest to watch and review 150 movies in 90 days, The Great Alone was a godsend as I browsed Netflix. Only 80 minutes long, a five-star user average, and it's a documentary about a sled dog racer? As someone who once watched (and enjoyed) a documentary on the competitive Scrabble scene, it was a no-brainer.

Let's get right to it - The Great Alone is fantastic. It checks all the boxes: it provides you with the information necessary to understand the niche sport it covers without drowning you in it. It provides incremental background on the subject, second-generation Iditarod competitor Lance Mackey, to give you a reason to care about what's happening. And most of all, like all great sports documentaries, it's not really about the sport.

The cinematography is gorgeous throughout.

Mackey's father, Dick Mackey, won perhaps the most memorable Iditarod race of all-time in 1978. In a race that covers 1,049 miles, Mackey won by one second, collapsing at the finish line as his son, Lance, looked on.

Dick Mackey was a great sled dog racer, but a subpar father, which he admits himself in the film. "I knew the personalities and quirks and in-and-outs of my dogs better than I understood my children," he says. Like so many boys who failed to gain their father's attention, Lance reacted not by avoiding sled dog racing, but by immersing himself in it in an effort to finally get the attention and acceptance he wanted from his dad. Your mileage may vary, but if you can relate at all to Lance's relationship with his father, this film will hit home.

Along the way, Lance had other struggles, too, including a bout with throat cancer and struggles with drug addiction. It's clear that many of Lance's issues spiraled out of the childhood that he spent trying in vain to connect with his father. It's poignant and sad to see that, even decades later as a grown man himself, Lance still remains driven by the urge to be loved by someone who always had other things he'd rather do.

A nine-day race throughout Alaska provides a lot of opportunities for beautiful shots, and director Greg Kohs doesn't disappoint. Kohs uses long-distance shots of Mackey and his team of dogs to illustrate the scope of the race and showcase the beauty of Alaska. Kohs also makes skillful use of the interviews with Lance and his family, knowing when to linger on a close-up and when to use a voiceover as Lance continues his efforts to reach Nome, where the race finishes.

All of a sudden, marathon running doesn't look so lonely.

Even besides the personal drama, the documentary is pretty fascinating stuff. Lance's relationship with his dogs is rather touching and makes it hard to think of a sport like this as abusive to the animals, as PETA claims. I suppose it'd be a matter of the individual racer and how they treat their dogs, but Lance clearly loves his animals as much as he does any human. I also enjoyed the footage of Lance reaching checkpoints in tiny Alaskan towns, where bundled-up kids ask for autographs and the racers stop for an hour or two of sleep before heading off again.

Grade: A

6/23/2016

Summer Moviethon 2016: Glengarry Glen Ross

June 22: #11, Glengarry Glen Ross

Coffee's for closers only.


I had never seen Glengarry Glen Ross until yesterday, but I'd seen part of it. You know the scene - the one where Alec Baldwin visits a small group of salesmen and reams them up one side and down the other. After that, I was always curious to see the rest of the film.

I was surprised to find that the scene in question happens very early into the film. By the time Baldwin's Blake has appeared, we've barely been introduced to the film's three hapless salesmen, played by a scheming Ed Harris, a desperate Jack Lemmon, and a gutless Alan Arkin. Before and afterward, though, the film settles into an alternating pattern of "Who's on First?" style dialogue and whining over the low quality of the leads.

Ah, the leads. The leads! Anyone who has worked even a day in sales knows about "the leads." In this respect, Glengarry Glen Ross is terrifically accurate. The rather pathetic salesmen in the film laud their own magnificence when they miraculously make a sale and endlessly bemoan the terrible leads when they don't. It's a mentality that hit home with me as instantly reminiscent of a former friend's grandpa who was (probably still is, I don't know) addicted to gambling.

When he had a good night, Gambling Grandpa would come back to the house and regale us in triumphant tales of skill and determination. When he lost, which was most of the time, he bitched about bad beats and terrible luck. The sales trio in this film seems just as insufferable and pathetic.

They're supposed to be, of course. That's why Blake showed up to belittle them in the first place. That's also why the star salesman, played by Al Pacino, was absent for the lecture. It would have been out of character for him to sit through it, and writer David Mamet knew it.

What I didn't know is that Blake doesn't even exist in the play the film is not just based on. Knowing that now, it makes a lot of sense. That part of the film is so different from what precedes and follows it that it sticks out like a sore thumb. In my case, it also made a promise that the rest of the film wasn't ready to fulfill.


What I got instead was an hour and a half of salesmen whining and bullshitting with one another, kind of like the equivalent of being stuck in a conversation with a pathological liar at the bar. At times, I was tempted to stop listening altogether because the characters were so full of shit. Still, hard to hold that against the film, since that's basically the whole point.

In a lot of cases, the dialogue simply doesn't work for me, and by looking around online, I know I'm in the minority. Maybe you'd like an exchange like this between Ed Harris' Dave Moss and Alan Arkin's George Aaronow, delivered in rapid-fire mode:

Aaronow: Yes. I mean are you actually talking about this, or are we just...
Moss: No, we're just.
Aaronow: We're just "talking" about it.
Moss: We're just speaking about it. (Pause.) As an idea.
Aaronow: As an idea.
Moss: Yes.
Aaronow: We're not actually talking about it.  
Moss: No.
Aaronow: Talking about it as a.
Moss: No.
Aaronow: As a robbery.
Moss: As a "robbery"?! No.
Aaronow: Well. Well.
Moss: Hey. (Pause.)
Aaronow: So all this, um, you didn't, actually, you didn't actually go talk to Graff.
Moss: Not actually, no. (Pause.)
Aaronow: You didn't?
Moss: No. Not actually.
Aaronow: Did you?
Moss: What did I say?
Aaronow: What did you say?
Moss: Yes. (Pause.) I said, "Not actually." The fuck you care, George? We're just talking.

Me? I didn't dig it. It felt self-conscious, like some of Quentin Tarantino's dialogue, where I almost expect Mamet to appear in the background of the scene, winking. "Isn't this witty? I mean, isn't it just great?" It felt like dialogue from an abandoned episode of Seinfeld.

"WHAT is WITH these leaaaads?"

There are a few scenes where Jack Lemmon absolutely nails his role as a shitty salesman who is still using the outdated carny tactics that worked in the 70s, before salesmen adopted cocky alpha-male personas in the 90s and sales reps started acting like advisors a decade or so ago. Pacino is great as well, even if it's hard to watch anything he does and not see shades of his other roles, such as Frank in Scent of a Woman, which was released the same year that this film was.

I can see how Glengarry Glen Ross worked well on stage. I can see how director James Foley tried to translate that to the screen, and at times, his artful directing and economic use of the small office space works effectively. I just don't think it made for a very compelling film, despite good acting performances all around. It's not a bad movie, and it's one that you may very well enjoy, but it wasn't for me.

Grade: C-